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Hackathon Survival Guide

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What's a Hack? What's a Hackathon? And how do I survive, and better yet, succeed at a Hackathon? …

What's a Hack? What's a Hackathon? And how do I survive, and better yet, succeed at a Hackathon?

This presentation is an introduction to hacking and hackathons (also known as hack days), and contains valuable tips for the novice and experienced hacker alike to make the most effective use of their time at a hackathon, and to prepare their hack and presentation to make the best impression on audiences and judges.


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  • 1. Hackathon Survival Guide Ching-Wei Chen (@cweichen) Director of Developer Program, Gracenote
  • 2. What's a Hack?
  • 3. A solution to a problem
  • 4. Made with available tools
  • 5. That works!
  • 6. What's a Hackathon?
  • 7. Gracenote Hackathon '12 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md0KlGwwtRU
  • 8. A Day In The Life
  • 9. A Typical Hackathon Schedule Day 1 9:00am - Registration/Breakfast 10:00am - Welcome/API Presentations 11:00am - Start Hacking! 12:00pm - Lunch 6:00pm - Dinner 7:00pm - Keep Hacking! Day 2 8:00am - Breakfast 12:00pm - Lunch 1:30pm - Stop Hacking! 2:00pm - Presentations 5:00pm - Judging and Awards 6:00pm - The End!
  • 10. 11:00am - Start Hacking! ~24 hours to make something happen! 1:30pm - Stop Hacking!
  • 11. The 5 Stages of Hacking
  • 12. Stage 1: The Big Idea
  • 13. Stage 1: The Big Idea •  "This is going to change the world!" •  You want to solve the big problems, use every API, and do something no one has ever done before •  Sometimes the best idea is one that scratches your own itch
  • 14. Stage 2:Action Plan
  • 15. Stage 2: Action Plan •  Figure help o  out which APIs and data can Mashape, Programmable Web, Google, Yahoo •  Design the hack •  (If working in a team) Divide and conquer o  o  Identify strengths of each team member, and divide up the work Define clear interfaces, inputs and outputs, between each component
  • 16. Stage 3: Digging In
  • 17. Stage 3: Digging In •  Time o  o  o  Google, Google, Google API Docs, Tutorials, Stack Overflow The more you dig, the deeper you go •  Baby o  o  to get down to serious hacking steps "Hello world!" first Make sure you have something to show every step of the way - printfs, beeps, blinks, anything! This way you can climb out of holes without losing everything. •  Dig far enough, and you'll eventually reach...
  • 18. Stage 4: Stage 4:
  • 19. Stage 4: "Recalculating!" •  Some things don't work as you originally thought, some assumptions are completely wrong, you'll think there's no way out •  But there is usually something else that does something pretty close •  Stay open minded, and revisit the original idea and design
  • 20. Stage 5: Panic
  • 21. Stage 5: Panic •  Time's almost up, and it's not totally working yet! •  Even things that were working usually stop working around an hour before hacking ends •  What do I do??!!
  • 22. Start with your pitch, and work backwards
  • 23. The 4 “Be’s”
  • 24. Be Concise
  • 25. Be Concise •  Create a short, memorable name and tagline that crystallizes your entire hack •  Craft o  o  o  o  a focused storyline: What is the one problem you are trying to solve? Why does it matter and why do you care? How does your hack solve the problem? Don’t complicate the story with endless lists of possible enhancements
  • 26. Be Focused
  • 27. Be Focused •  Your only goal is to pitch •  A completed hack that does just one thing well is better than a hack that does lots of things poorly •  Don't be afraid to make assumptions or mock-up data
  • 28. Be Prepared
  • 29. Be Prepared •  Run through lots of examples to find one or two that work well •  Make a video or screencast as soon as everything is working •  What will you do if Wifi is down? •  Do an A/V test
  • 30. Be Interesting
  • 31. Be Interesting •  •  •  •  This isn’t a design review, it's a hack! SHOW, don't tell. Dive right into your live demo ASAP. Explanations can come later. Avoid slides if you can. If you must, make them fun and engaging - use videos, music, pictures and humor liberally. Get the audience to participate.
  • 32. If you follow this guide...
  • 33. https://developer.gracenote.com @gracenotedev Ching-Wei Chen (@cweichen) Director of Developer Program